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Toledo Museum of Art

Ranked among the country's top fifteen art museums, the Toledo Museum of Art pleasantly surprises many visitors, who discover treasures from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; paintings by such Old Masters as El Greco, Rubens, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Turner; decorative arts, African and Asian art; and works by modern masters as Matisse, Picasso, Hopper, and Nevelson.

Edward Libbey, a successful businessman, and his wife Florence Scott Libbey founded the Toledo Art Museum in 1901 at a time when Americans were establishing cultural institutions fostering art, music, and literature to celebrate social and economic triumphs of the age. Community groups organized public art museums, which often included schools, some only for drawing and painting, others also for design and applied arts. Many of these have become great institutions, and include the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

The museum's first exhibitions were staged in rented rooms in a downtown building. The following year, Edward Libbey underwrote the remodeling of a house on Madison Avenue at 13th Street, walking distance to the courthouse, library and high school, to be used for the museum. George Stevens, a poet, amateur astronomer, painter, storyteller, journalist, and reputed by his contemporaries to be "the best beloved man in Toledo," shared Libbey's belief that an art museum could be made as useful to a community as its public library and public schools. In 1903 Stevens became the new museum's director. His wife, Nina Spalding Stevens, who had been educated at the School of Applied Design for Woman, and the Art Students League in New York, was named museum assistant director.

The Stevenses threw themselves into building community support for the museum, encouraging newspapers to write articles about the museum and its art, speaking to civic groups, and developing programs with schools. Their goal and accomplishment was to create an understanding with the community that the art museum was vital to Toledo's health and welfare. "The first thing I want to do is remove from the minds of people the idea that The Toledo Museum of Art is an ultra-exclusive association or an expensive luxury....It is something to give that all the people want and we want them all with us," Stevens said.

The collection began with sporadic gifts, and was initially influenced by the interests of its director and benefactor. Steven's wide ranging interests focused on the history of writing, printing, illustration, and binding, thus, the art of the book because a distinctive feature of Toledo's graphic-arts collection. Libbey, who owned the Libbey Glass Company, was determined to build a comprehensive glass collection that would show the development of the art from antiquity to the present. One benefactor, Arthur J. Secor, who was also vice president of the museum's board, is said to have told Stevens, "I watch the procession of people, men, women, and children passing by my house on Sunday, a never-ending file up the street to the museum, and I turn around and look at my collection of paintings and feel selfish." Secor donated his entire collection, which reached from 17th century Holland to 1890s America, with particular strength in 19th century.

Libbey, who died in 1925, left his collection to the museum and generous endowment. Under museum directors, Blake-More Godwin (1927-1958), and Otto Wittman (1959-1977) continued the efforts to build a collection that would be known for the quality of its carefully selected works of art. By the time Wittman retired, the museum had tripled in size. Roger Mandle, director from 1977 to 1988, was responsible, working with curators, for a series of outstanding acquisitions in virtually every field in which the museum collect, with an emphasis on seeking major twentieth century works. David Steadman became director in 1988.

Since its early years, the museum has actively showcased music, encouraged by Florence Libbey's own musical interests. In 1931, a peristyle auditorium was constructed in which musical programs, including concerts by the Toledo Symphony, have been presented. In 1995 a new association was forged between the museum and the symphony. The museum has always had a strong interest in art education. Since 1919, a part of the museum has been devoted to an art school, eventually working closely with the University of Toledo. The university's Center for the Visual Arts was built adjacent to the museum. Over the past 20 years, major components of the museum's collections have been published in scholarly catalogs.

Project documentation several museum brochures and guides, nine slides, and the catalog, Toledo Treasures, which provides a short history of the museum.

Originally submitted by: Marcy Kaptur, Representative (9th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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